Galleria Continua, located in the heart of Tuscany’s most popular hilltop town, San Gimignano, is a dynamic art gallery that continually offers its visitors some of the most sought-after contemporary art in all of Italy, and indeed the world. At present, the gallery is host to several internationally renowned artists, such as Mona Hatoum and Daniel Buren, whose works were created specifically for the gallery’s various rooms, corridors, and theater.
Upon entering the gallery, visitors are confronted with a large alabaster sculpture of rosary beads that spread out over the floor. Just beyond and attached to the wall, a cottony-waxy map of the world on white paper titled ‘projection’ calls to mind the title of Mona Hatoum’s show: ‘Web.’ Both of these works evoke a certain minimal poeticism that often marks Hatoum’s pieces, and is also evidence of the apparent conflict and contradiction inherent in her artistic process.
Born into a Palestinian family in Beirut in 1952, she was forced to stay in London while visiting the
city on holiday as a result of the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war. Such biographical information can perhaps cloud a viewer’s true appreciation of Hatoum’s formal strengths. Nonetheless, it seems to be continually evident in the artist’s effort, even if her current work is more reflective and subtle than some of her more ‘in- yourface’ sculptures, installations, and performances from the 1980s. Drowning Sorrows, for example, depicts a circle of cut wine bottles that are positioned so as to appear teetering or even sinking into the surrounding pavement, thus illuminating the duality between existence and non-existence, or, more metaphorically, hiding and revealing.
Venturing downstairs one enters into the Continua Gallery’s theater and is completely surrounded by Hatoum’s installation, ‘Web’—a gigantic spider-like web made of crystal spheres and ultra-thin wire that spanned the entire length and width of the theater itself. An impressive achievement when viewed from below, especially during opening night when visitors to the gallery were treated to dinner and late night dancing. It does fall short, however, when seen from the balcony above, where it becomes a casual exercise in contemplation from a bird’s eye view.
From below, the ‘Web’ induces the sensation of being caught or trapped, a feeling that perhaps could have lasted only if the ‘Web’ itself was as intricate and gorgeous as that of a real spider’s web. It must be said however, that this is precisely the beauty of the Continua spirit, in that it allows artists the freedom to experiment on a grand scale with projects that perhaps would be considered too logistically difficult to host in more conformist, white-cube type galleries in cities like New York and London.
Such experimentation was also evident in Daniel Buren’s installation ‘Right There in the Most un-Accessible Corners.’ This labyrinth, located in a small section of the gallery made up completely of tiny rooms and hallways, was truly mind-numbing, as a sensation of claustrophobia begins to appear
as a result of Buren’s choice to combine red and white stripes with floor to ceiling mirrors. A viewer is left to then navigate a series of small rooms and corridors full of these infinite red and white stripes that evoke the feeling of being momentarily time warped into a sort of crazed Dr. Seuss fable realized in three dimensions.
Buren is a master with manipulating space and manages to transform things into something else by calculating with expert precision how his trademark stripes activate a space in unique and profound ways. He often seems to transform the most banal quotidian reality into a small yet eventful moment in time.
A visit to Galleria Continua, therefore, becomes something of an inimitable experience in politics, mapping, utopian ideals, and interconnectedness, all located in a city known for its medieval towers and quaint atmosphere. There’s little doubt that San Gimignano’s idealistic architects, artisans, and artists of the past would approve of their city’s active participation and dialogue with the contemporary present in ways that go beyond comfortable tourism.
Galleria Continua is open Tue to Sat 2pm-7pm and can be found in Via del Castello, 11 in San Gimignano. Admission is free. By car San Gimignano can be reached by leaving the A1 Milan- Rome motor way at ‘Firenze Certosa’ and then by taking the dual carriage-way towards Siena. Exit at ‘Poggibonsi nord’ and follow signs for San Gimignano, around 15 kilometers.